After travelling continuously for close to a day, I took a shower to freshen up and re-energise myself. As I came out, all I could see were tea plantations covering every inch of the earth surrounding me. I tried to see the farthest I could to spot something different, but the scenery was monotonous.
I was in the middle of a gigantic tea plantation spread across hundreds of acres of land and surrounded by tall, intimidating mountains.
It is one of the many experiences you will have while staying in Kolukkumalai.
Famous for having the highest tea plantations globally, Kolukkumalai is a place you must visit if you want to have an offbeat experience in Munnar. From beautiful sunrises and starry night skies to some of the freshest tea you’ll ever taste, Kolukkumalai is a delight for all your senses.
Black Eagles Camp organised our trip to Kolukkumalai. Nestled right in the middle of the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, Black Eagles Camp is a tour operator that provides food, camping and a guided trek to witness the famous sunrise from the Kolukkumalai peak.
You can find similar tour operators in Kolukkumalai but I recommend Black Eagles Camp as we had a great experience with them. This guide gives you a detailed itinerary that we followed with them as we experienced the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate in a wholesome manner.
Where is Kolukkumalai?
Kolukkumalai is a hilly village in Tamil Nadu located in Theni. It is on the border of Munnar (Kerala) and hence, you can see both Kerala and Tamil Nadu from the Kolukkumalai peak.
The Kolukkumalai Tea Estate is home to the highest tea plantations in the world. At 7,130 feet, the Kolukkumalai peak is one of the highest in the Western Ghats.
Due to the rugged terrains of this hilltop village, it is only accessible by jeep from Suryanelli, a town in Munnar. You’re also not allowed to bring your vehicles as Kolukkumalai is home to private tea estates.
2 ways to experience the famous Kolukkumalai Sunrise
The highlight of experiencing Kolukkumalai is witnessing the sunrise from the Kolukkumalai peak. Depending on the time you have, this can be done in two ways.
If you’re short on time, you can go for the Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari which is highly commercialised and attracts a lot of crowds.
But if you’ve time, I would recommend you opt for the Kolukkumalai trekking and camping packages with one of the tour operators in Kolukkumalai. They provide a more wholesome and immersive experience in Kolukkumalai as compared to the Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari.
In this guide, I’ll be talking extensively about the Kolukkumalai trekking and camping experience but if you’re short on time, let me also tell you how you can make the most of the Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari.
1. Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari
The Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari is ideal for you if you only have a few hours to spare for Kolukkumalai and want to watch the sunrise from the Kolukkumalai peak.
For the Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari, you need to make a booking with one of the jeep drivers in Suryanelli. Suryanelli is a town in Munnar which is also the starting point to reach Kolukkumalai.
Ideally, you should pre-book your hotel in or around Suryanelli and ask the hotel to arrange a jeep for you. All the hotels in Suryanelli have a tie-up or at least know some jeep drivers who’ll take you for the Kolukkumalai sunrise.
You can also enquire for jeeps at the Suryanelli jeep stand but it’s always better to plan to avoid any delays or confusion.
The Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari starts at 5 am early morning hence make sure that you’ve checked in to your hotel early the previous day and have sufficient sleep.
Typically, the price for the jeep safari is INR 2,000 per jeep for the entire trip. If you’re alone you can also club with other people as you’re not charged per head.
From your pickup point at Suryanelli, it takes around 45 minutes to an hour to reach the sunrise drop-off point at Kolukkumalai. The ride to the top of Kolukkumalai is a complete off-road experience through the tea plantations. As you’ll be travelling in the dark, you may not see anything.
Once you’re dropped off, you have to trek for 1.5 km to reach the Kolukkumalai peak. The sunrise at Kolukkumalai happens at 6 am. You’ll see the sun rising through the clouds in the background of the mountains. It is a sight to behold.
You can also visit the Tiger Rock nearby after that which is a naturally-formed rock that resembles the face of a tiger.
After spending some time here, return to your jeep and you’re taken back to Suryanelli through the same route. This time though, you’ll be able to see the tea gardens surrounding you unlike previously when it was dark.
2. Kolukkumalai trekking and camping
If you have at least a couple of days, I would recommend you to go for one of the Kolukkumalai trekking and camping packages provided by the tour operators in Kolukkumalai.
It helps you experience Kolukkumalai at your own pace and observe things that you otherwise may not see with the Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari.
We went with the Black Eagles Camp based in Kolukkumalai who have been organising tours in Kolukkumalai for many years.
Their tour package is for two days and one night. It comprises camping, food and a guided trek to witness the sunrise from the top.
Additionally, you get to visit a tea factory, walk in the middle of tea plantations and visit a waterfall where you can also take a dip. The entire package costs INR 2,000 per person (rates may vary).
For food, you are served tea and biscuits in the evening, some barbeque starters during the bonfire afterwards, a wholesome and freshly prepared dinner at night and a healthy breakfast the following day that includes puttu-kadala, bread and egg bhurji and freshly cut fruits.
The tent that they provide accommodates two people, including their luggage. You get access to toilets and bathrooms near the tents that are well maintained.
The sunrise trek happens early the next morning, which I will discuss later.
Apart from the trekking and camping package, you can inquire separately about the other activities at their campsite. They have activities like ziplining, kayaking and slacklining, which were under construction when we visited them.
How to book the Kolukkumalai trekking and camping package?
You can visit the Facebook page of the Black Eagles Camp to contact them and enquire about any questions you may have. To make a booking, you have to pay them a token amount in advance.
Note: Typically, all tour operators function in this manner.
Be sure to book one of their activities if you plan to come here with your friends or family. If I had to choose one, I would recommend you go ziplining for an adrenaline rush.
You glide along a rope at a considerable height with the tea plantations below you for a distance of 1.8 km. It is said to be the longest zipline in India. It’s hard to get an experience like this anywhere in India.
Kolukkumalai trek itinerary (2 days/1 night)
Let me take you through the detailed itinerary I followed with the Black Eagles Camp which was for 2 days and 1 night that helped me experience Kolukkumalai immersively.
On day 1, you have to report to Suryanelli after lunch. As mentioned before, Suryanelli is a tiny settlement on the outskirts of Munnar known as the starting point for Kolukkumalai.
Suryanelli is 30 km from Munnar; however, it can take up to 1.5 hours to reach there due to uneven roads, so keep this in mind.
Try to reach Munnar early morning. After reaching Munnar, have your breakfast at one of the restaurants in Munnar.
After breakfast, you can explore other places in Munnar before heading off to Suryanelli. But make sure you reach Munnar by 7-8 am to give sufficient time for different places.
Or you can take it easy as we did.
As there are no direct buses from Munnar to Suryanelli, we took a bus to Chinnakanal (on the way to Suryanelli), which took close to an hour, after which we started exploring Chinnakanal on foot as we walked towards Suryanelli.
This is a fun experience to have as you get to take in the sceneries, experience the village life and have refreshments at regular intervals. The only drawback is that you can get tired quickly, especially in broad daylight, so hydrate yourself regularly and wear a hat.
Pro tip: Have lemon soda from one of the local shops whenever you feel thirsty to quench your thirst.
If possible, try to have lunch at one of the small restaurants in Suryanelli town itself. The ambience may not be there, but the food you get at one of these restaurants is local and an excellent value for money.
Call your coordinator (from the Black Eagles Camp) once you have lunch. To be better prepared, you can call him/her in advance to update them about your arrival in Suryanelli. In any case, you’ll get a call from one of these coordinators asking you about your current location.
Your coordinator will pick you up from Suryanelli (near the Church of South India) in a jeep. The journey from Suryanelli to Kolukkumalai, or more specifically, the base camp of the Black Eagles Camp, begins from here.
Keep all your senses active because you wouldn’t want to miss this section of the journey!
As you start your journey, you will be passing tea estates and a few human settlements along the way.
The further you travel, the more you are surrounded by tall mountains, tea plantations and misty weather. The journey is along zig-zag roads as you ascend the hills, but overall, the trip is smooth till you reach Upper Surianalle Estate, HML.
This is your only stop on this journey before you reach the base camp of the Black Eagles.
Fun fact: Upper Surianalle Estate (also known as the Kolukkumalai tea factory) is an old tea factory run by Harrisons Malayalam Limited (HML) that produces tea leaves of different kinds and qualities to be exported to countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the US.
You can walk around and explore the nearby areas of the tea factory.
There is a small house outside this tea factory where an old uncle prepares tea. Have your cup of tea from here and enjoy it outside amidst the presence of tea plantations.
After spending some time at Upper Surianalle Estate, you finally make way for the base camp of Black Eagles. In the next section of the journey, you will be passing along Kolukkumalai Tea Estate with tall mountains in the background.
You will be travelling in a jeep in off-road conditions for close to half an hour. This journey was one of the most intense off-roads I had experienced personally.
You will be shaking in different directions during this bumpy ride. So make sure you hold on to your seats and embrace yourself for what is to come.
Once you reach the base camp, your coordinator will allot your respective tents. Apart from the tents, there is a kitchen cum storage space where the cook prepares food, a dining place where food is served and toilets/bathrooms if you want to freshen up.
The entire ambience of the campsite is breathtaking as all you see are tea plantations everywhere.
You might want to freshen up after being on the road for so long. The toilets/bathrooms are well maintained, with clean water running through the taps.
Freshly prepared tea and biscuits are served sometime soon. As you have a lot of time to kill in the evening, you can walk around and explore the nearby areas or chill at the campsite with your friends/fellow travellers.
By the time the sun sets in, the weather becomes chilly. The entire campsite becomes lit with lights, and a bonfire is set close to the kitchen where you can play games and socialise with fellow travellers.
Meanwhile, a few barbeque starters are served.
By around 8 pm, dinner is ready, and the kitchen staff will serve food in the dining area. By this time, you should be having a layer of jacket/sweater because the winds become chilly.
Stargazing is a must when you are here. If you are lucky enough, you can find a clear sky full of stars shining at night. You should not miss this, especially if you are into astrophotography.
Go to sleep early as you have to wake up around 5 am the next day to trek to the Kolukkumalai peak from where you will witness the sunrise. Your coordinator will be reminding you of this at night.
It is better to keep an alarm for 5 am so that you have time to freshen up. By 5:30 am, your trek starts.
Wake up by 5 am. Remember, the more you delay, the more your chances are of missing the sunrise. You do not want to miss this surreal experience!
Try to occupy one of the toilets as soon as you wake up to avoid the rush. Freshen up, wear a jacket and get ready with your mobile cameras/DSLR.
Your coordinator will lead you along with other travellers to the peak of Kolukkumalai. It is pitch dark at this time, so switch on your flashlights or wear a headlamp to guide you along the route.
You will be passing through tea plantations and a forest for close to half an hour. The terrains will be uneven, so wear proper outdoor shoes.
You know you have reached the top when you see the path becoming narrower and the landscape around you opening up.
There are neighbouring hills on one side covered in clouds with orangish-yellow hues of the rising sun in the background. On the other side, you get a bird’s eye view of a valley of tea plantations with a few human settlements scattered across different areas.
The only drawback of witnessing the sunrise from the Kolukkumalai peak is the crowd. Many people come from another route via the Jeep Safari to catch the sunrise from the top.
You will be spending close to an hour watching the sunrise from the top, lighting up the entire landscape with clouds moving in the background. This was undoubtedly the best sunrise I had witnessed in South India.
The scenes are perfect for landscape photography and time-lapses. There is also a famous rock nearby called Tiger Rock as it appears in the shape of a Tiger. It is another spot ideal for photography.
Fun fact: You can see Meesapulimala (Kerala’s second-highest peak) from the Kolukkumalai peak. Ask your coordinator for the same.
After close to an hour, your coordinator will guide you back to the campsite via the same route. Now that you have sunlight, you will be witnessing various panoramic landscapes that you missed previously while trekking to the Kolukkumalai peak in the dark.
Back at the campsite, the kitchen staff serves you breakfast, after which you pack up and get ready to go back towards Suryanelli. But wait! The trip isn’t over yet.
Instead of taking a jeep, you will be walking through the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, crossover a village and get to take a dip in a waterfall. This experience finally ends with a visit to the tea factory again in a jeep.
By the time you reach Suryanelli, it is afternoon or close to 1 pm.
The tea plantations that you walk through, once you leave your campsite, is the one that is visible from the top of Kolukkumalai. This is also the same path you took to reach the Black Eagles base camp via a jeep.
The walk is beautiful as you will be walking through a landscape that looks like a maze. There are ample opportunities for photography here.
After a certain point, you reach a village that transports you back to your childhood. You see local folks living their daily lives in tiny houses. These are friendly people who are more than happy to strike up a conversation with you.
As you continue your journey, you eventually reach a small, cascading waterfall amid tea plantations. The water here is cold and refreshing so take a dip if you can. We spent close to an hour here.
For the final leg of your journey, you are taken back to the Upper Surianalle Estate in a jeep.
You can buy tea leaves from the reception and also take a tea tour for a nominal fee of INR 100 per person inside the Kolukkumalai tea factory. A guide will explain the various processes and methods used in preparing tea leaves as you go through different rooms and old-school equipment.
Go for this experience because there is a lot to learn. Photography is not allowed during the tea tour.
Finally, your coordinator drops you off at Suryanelli in a jeep. This is where you say goodbye to all the adventures you had in the company of tea plantations as you ease into civilisation again.
How to reach Munnar?
You have to reach Munnar first before heading off to Suryanelli, the starting point for Kolukkumalai. There are different ways in which you can reach Munnar.
If you are coming from Kochi, the cheapest way to reach Munnar would be by taking a government bus (KSRTC) which is available frequently. If you are coming from nearby states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, you can get inter-state government buses to Kochi.
The nearest railway station to Munnar is Aluva, which is 110 kilometres from Munnar. Ernakulam Railway station (Kochi) is the nearest railway station after that at a distance of 130 km from Munnar.
Cochin International Airport is the closest airport to Munnar at a distance of 110 km from Munnar. If you are coming from a distant state, the most practical option would be to take a flight to Kochi and then take a bus to Munnar.
How to travel from Munnar to Kolukkumalai?
There is no way to reach Kolukkumalai directly from Munnar. You first need to travel to Suryanelli, which is the starting point for Kolukkumalai.
There are no direct buses to Suryanelli from Munnar, however. You have to take a government bus to Chinnakanal, which takes about an hour. After that, you can hire a shared jeep from Chinnakanal to reach Suryanelli, which takes another half an hour.
At Suryanelli, you need to assemble near the Church of South India, from where one of the coordinators of the Black Eagles Camp will pick you up in a jeep. Alternatively, you can also ask them where to meet in Suryanelli as it is a small town.
Best time to visit Kolukkumalai
We visited Kolukkumalai in January. The weather was cool and pleasant, although the temperature dropped considerably at night. However, the night sky was clear, and so was the sunrise.
Ideally, the cooler months from September to March would be an excellent time to visit Kolukkumalai. It is better to avoid the monsoon months, especially June and July, as the terrain becomes slippery.
Best travel tips for Kolukkumalai
Keep these things in mind before heading off to Kolukkumalai.
- It is essential to wear sports/trekking shoes to get a good grip on the rough terrains.
- Network connectivity is hard to get once you are in the mountains.
- Carry a towel and swimwear if you plan to take a dip in the waterfall.
- Carry a jacket/sweater as it becomes cold at night and early morning.
- Don’t have a heavy lunch on Day 1, as you will be traversing through off-road conditions for close to half an hour while leaving for Kolukkumalai.
- Although there are plug points in the Black Eagles campsite, carry a power bank preferably.
- Don’t miss out on your DSLR/phone camera, as you will get ample opportunities for photography.
- Do not miss the sunrise hike at any cost.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is the best time to visit Kolukkumalai?
You can visit Kolukkumalai any time of the year except during monsoons when trekking in Kolukkumalai is risky due to the slippery conditions. September to March is the best time to visit Kolukkumalai as the landscape is greener and the weather is cooler as compared to the other months of the year.
Can we trek to Kolukkumalai?
You cannot trek or even take your vehicle to Kolukkumalai because the terrains are uneven and hence, not ideal. Moreover, as Kolukkumalai is home to private tea estates, entry is restricted.
However, you can go to Kolukkumalai with authorised jeep drivers in Suryanelli or with tour operators in Kolukkumalai who will be having a jeep of their own.
How to reach Kolukkumalai peak?
To reach the Kolukkumalai peak, you need to book a jeep first via your hotel in Suryanelli or by going to the Suryanelli jeep stand. The jeep driver will pick you up at 5 am from your location in Suryanelli and take you through the tea plantations of Kolukkumalai.
It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to reach the drop-off point. From there, you have to trek another 1.5 km to reach the Kolukkumalai peak. From here, you can view the sunrise at 6 am and also visit Tiger-Rock nearby.
Alternatively, you can also reach Kolukkumalai peak by signing up with one of the tour operators in Kolukkumalai.
What is the Kolukkumalai Sunrise Jeep Safari?
The Kolukkumalai Sunrise Jeep Safari (also known as the Kolukkumalai Sunrise Package) is a popular package provided by the jeep drivers in Suryanelli, the starting point of Kolukkumalai.
In this package, you’ll be picked up at Suryanelli around 5 am and taken through the Kolukkumalai tea plantations for close to an hour before reaching the drop-off point. From here, you trek for another 1.5 km before witnessing the sunrise from the Kolukkumalai peak. You can also visit Tiger-Rock nearby.
After that, you’re taken back to Suryanelli through the same route. The entire package costs INR 2,000 per jeep and every jeep accommodates 6-8 people.
Although you’ll see tea plantations everywhere in Munnar, you’ll rarely spend time in the middle of tea plantations experiencing everything that nature offers.
The camping and trekking experience at Kolukkumalai that I experienced offers you a chance to do exactly that.
Be it drinking tea right from the tea gardens in front of you, witnessing the spectacular sunrise from the Kolukkumalai peak or dipping in a pool amidst tea plantations, there are so many things you can experience and observe at Kolukkumalai.
All of this was possible thanks to the Black Eagles Camp who let us experience Kolukkumalai in an offbeat manner. I highly recommend you sign up with them or one of the tour operators there so that you have the most wholesome experience in Kolukkumalai.
If not, you can always go for the Kolukkumalai Jeep Safari but keep in mind that you’ll only be experiencing a slice of Kolukkumalai while missing out on so many things that can make your trip more enjoyable.
I hope you find this guide helpful and valuable. If you have any doubts, let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to help.